The Department of Defense (DoD) released its annual Freedom of Navigation (FON) Report for Fiscal Year 2020 on March 10, 2021. Each year, DoD releases an unclassified FON Report identifying the broad range of excessive maritime claims that are challenged by the U.S. government. This year, with historic coastal state efforts to undermine the international law of the sea, U.S. forces challenged 28 different excessive maritime claims made by 19 different claimants throughout the world. The FON Report is made public to transparently signal the U.S. rejection of these maritime claims.
DoD’s operational challenges, also known as “FON operations,” and “FONOPs,” are designed to challenge coastal state maritime claims that unlawfully restrict navigation and overflight rights and freedoms and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms guaranteed in international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. FONOPs demonstrate the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.
The comprehensive, regular, and routine execution of these operations complements U.S. Department of State efforts to abide by and uphold international law. These efforts include U.S. foreign assistance to strengthen international maritime law and U.S. diplomatic engagements to call on coastal states to bring unlawful maritime claims into conformance with international law.
The Department of State’s efforts are reflected in the Legal Adviser’s Annual Digest of United States Practice in International Law, which provides a historical record of the views and practice of the U.S. government in international law, including with respect to unlawful maritime claims. The mutually supporting lines of effort by DoD and the Department of State comprise the U.S. Freedom of Navigation Program which, since 1979, has advanced the longstanding U.S. national interest in freedom of the seas worldwide. The United States will uphold the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea for the benefit of all nations and will stand with like-minded partners doing the same.